Tag Archives: vocation

Being Privileged

I actually had no quarrel with the lectionary today. The first reading in it, if you are interested is worth looking up later. What it says was pretty similar to the first part of the gospel anyway.
I chose the reading from Alexis Wright as part of a personal project that I thought you would allow me to share with you. My project is to bring into my prayer life some voices of women of colour, and especially Indigenous women. I read, then I spend some time trying to become aware to broaden my mind and to be called out of my privileged view of the world.
I haven’t read all of Carpentaria yet, but Wright’s work makes me feel deeply uncomfortable and sad with a sadness I don’t know how to express. It’s not really my intention to share my discomfort (hence I chose a relatively mild passage) but as feminists we do need to remember that we have been asking for decades that men and especially ones in leadership positions would sit with the discomfort that WE bring and let it undermine an unjust system, rather than being emotionally lazy and dismissing us unheard.
So when it comes to an Indigenous woman, one who is not only speaking unfamiliar truths, but speaking them in epistemologically strange (to me) ways I need to take extra time to get to know what I am hearing and allow for its potential to change me.
Will this change us?
I’ve circled back to the original first reading which is echoed in the gospel. In the Kindom of God we are called to set the table not to build a wall around “church” and then become gate keepers. We are called to throw open the doors and give refreshment (even a cup of water) in the name of Life.
Imagine a church that had always recognised this?
Imagine centuries- not of converting and condemning others but (and here I borrow from Micah) of walking humbly with our God in the world. What collaborations of respect and mutual learning might have been possible? Instead of a movement for liberation, people like Constantine used the network of Christians as a vehicle for conquest to further ruling class interests. God of course has been subversively present even so.
We are hearing some of that sort of ideology in the promotions of a so called “Christianity” in politics. A Christianity that does not have compassion for refugees or the unemployed or the working poor? A Christianity that does not look after the aged sufficiently and spits on the integrity of the earth herself. Where I must ask is the “Christ” in all this?
The second reading seems to concur, warning the wealthy and privileged that what they have tells a story of injustice and abuse. Exploiting the worker or the earth is disrespectful of the integrity of creation as God’s image, it defies God’s Wisdom which calls us to live in love and hope. Consumerism in the short term can seem like a refuge from increasingly difficult thoughts- we can turn consumerism into apparently kind values – looking good for others, decorating and cooking for others (some others of course, those few we value at the cost of the many). Ultimately the economic and ecological problems worsen while we ignore them. This gospel is written not only for the 1%, the super-rich but also for us. What would it take for us to turn away from the unhappiness of addiction to wealth and take these messages seriously?
We could start by demanding that any leader who invoked “Christianity” also practice it- not just in turning up to a church once in a while but in policy and practice. Our “Way of life” is threatened more by people who claim to promote it, than by those who admit they are different. We must move forward into life.
As an unauthorised preacher, it is very tempting for me to take only words of comfort from the gospel, which reminds us that as church we do not have to control, endorse or forbid the ministry of others, God is well able to call whoever she wants. I need to read on, from the reassurance to the stern warning. While God calls me to speak, I must take care because if my words are the thing that derail or distract people from God then I will be held accountable.
God’s view of us is not just as atomised and empowered individuals (the neoliberal “can-do” vision), but members of a community- giving and receiving ideas, support and challenge to each other. It’s easy for me to focus on the ways the institutional church has sinned- denying the possibility of female ministry for example, encouraging queer kids to despair and fall away even kill themselves, leaving exploitative capitalism to run rampant, allowing clergy to abuse children. There is much to be angry about.
But the gospel comes not only to fuel anger, but self-reflection. How must I be part of building healthier communities? How must I walk a wise line between listening to wiser others and challenging them? This little church community gives me hope in this like in all things. People here work tirelessly for refugees and give generously to poor families. We don’t all agree on things, but we leave some room for each other’s creativity to unsettle and teach us. We truly seek to love better.
God knows she has called us and knows who we are working for. Let us find ways to amplify our prophetic voices and call a sad and lost world to account and thus back to life. Let us glean hope from the justice and compassion that is possible in each of our lives as leaders and participants in communities. Let us be the one who gives, accepts or celebrates the cup of water given in the name of unconstrainable Life.
Where there is good in our worlds, let us build and nurture it.
Let us sit with the possibilities for hope on this beautiful spring day. Let us dwell on the people and places that our hope is for. After a short time of silence, you may wish to share and connect with those around you.

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Fallenness…sin…human nature?

Are we “fallen”? Is there something really flawed and ruined about humanity? Do we need “saving”? Some theological perspectives would answer “yes” to these questions, or ones like them. In that sort of a theology, usually Jesus’ death is seen as the salvific act, the death is a necessary sacrifice, a good thing. I approach a perspective like that with extreme caution, even suspicion. What does it do to our collective psyche if some human deaths and suffering are necessary or “good”? I don’t like the implications of accepting the pain and sacrifice of another too blithely.

But we do need to grapple with understandings about our own nature and about who God is. These questions seem to me to go back to today’s first reading.

In the first reading Adam has sinned by listening to the “woman” who listened to the animal. He has embarked on a human pattern of othering any part of himself that causes him shame. He is hiding away from God, afraid and conscious of his own nakedness. Nakedness has ceased to be an innocent state, he needs a barrier between himself and the environment. Incidentally this is the first “nudey-rudey” self-shaming episode that many children internalise as parents battle them out of embarrassing habits.

God in this reading accepts Adam’s assertion that it was “the woman’s” fault and her assertion in turn blaming the serpent. God appears to be sanctifying the hierarchy we know so well. What is going on here? Why would an all-knowing and all-loving God create humans with not only the capacity but the yearning to “fall” in this way? Why give “Adam” such a flawed companion? Why allow the serpent to speak? The idealised “perfection” of Eden thus becomes reconstituted as a death-trap. Some theologies hold that God planned it all that way to make Jesus’ saving act all the more spectacular.

This also is problematic.

Let’s assume that God set up the fall and the resultant disconnection in order to make necessary and meaningful horrific violence and abuse many centuries later. At this point I can see some sense in the mocking atheists, the “spaghetti monster” people etc. If I understand my faith this way it does seem violent and compassionless. If I understand myself as so “fallen” I can see a need to repress my own emotions, my own impulses, my own over-loud heart.

I grew up with a faith related to that, and it didn’t do me much good.

But outside of this pericope, Genesis also tells us that we are made in God’s image. There must be some inherent beauty and goodness (ie grace) in our identity, whatever about “original sin”. How can we be made in God’s image and yet made only to fall and be fragmented and driven asunder? How can we be made in God’s image, yet in our very nature demand and need the violent death of another? What is “God” then?

Last week I mentioned George Monbiot’s assertion that human beings are intrinsically altruistic. While the bible does not specifically say so, this idea fits with many biblical stories and thoughts. It fits with the idea that we are made in God’s image. It fits with the idea that God loves us (why would God love the irretrievably fallen?). It fits with Jesus’ tendency to spread food and wine and joy together with his wisdom; to spread healing together with forgiveness; to spread love and hope in the world. To take blame and judgement as the main products of our faith is to miss the point.

“Out of my depths” of yearning to be more than some narrative of “fall”, I pass through the psalm where all things are redeemable into the second reading. Like the author of the second reading “I believe therefore I speak”. I may be wrong in what I say, but my theologising comes from a position of faith- my faith in God is important enough for me to have made this commitment. I am called to put in the hard work every week and write something, sometimes also to preach it. I often fail at this and other vocations in my life, but I also often break it into small enough steps to succeed at some of it.

There is more than fallenness and passivity and waiting in my relationship to God. I sweat real sweat of hard work over the computer each week. I shake with real anxiety when I stand up before people to preach. My collaboration with God is imperfect because I am a still growing-toward God little unfinished image, not because I am completely without hope and “fallen”. I sin less (I believe) when I think about what I am doing, when I focus my motivations on others (particularly on God) and when I make an effort. It is very easy to slide into all sorts of unhealthy relationships with myself, others, food, money, work and leisure. While I can’t make myself perfect through an act of will, or a decision or even through hard work I can make myself better or worse by trying or not. I need God sure, but God also requires of me a commitment of will and effort.

Seems like I am in a more complicated relationship with God than merely “fallen” or “saved”, each day I make choices (some without noticing) about who to be and how to be. I am like the babies I work with, I sometimes over-reach and other times I am tired or lazy or angry and do not try enough. I am human. I am flawed. I am imperfect. But I am intrinsically good.

I am made in God’s image.

The gospel cautions us against sin against the Holy Spirit. This is a debated text, but for an every-day reading I like to reflect on who the Holy Spirit is and where we encounter her? In the context of the reading, the Holy Spirit is to be encountered in Jesus who therefore should not be mocked or dismissed. We know from Jesus that we find him (therefore also the Holy Spirit) in our neighbour.

We are called to look for traces of good in each other and to recognise and honour the Holy Spirit in all. Are we willing to see these traces in our Muslim neighbour? In our lesbian neighbour? In our politician neighbour? In our militant vegan neighbour? In our private-school educated neighbour? What about the noisy child? The strangely dressed or pierced teenager? The overly talkative old neighbour? We are all made in the image of God and the good things we do (however fleeting or however consistent) all come from God’s Spirit. God’s creation cannot fail to have goodness at its core.

It is a denial of God’s spirit to dehumanise others, even others we disapprove of or disagree with. It is a denial of God’s spirit to be so cynical about humanity that we advocate violence or nihilism. It is a denial of God’s spirit to only value animals, plants or rocks only by how much money we can extract from what we do with them. Are these ways of thinking unforgiveable? I hope not. I hope God’s Spirit dwells so tangled and burrowed deep into our DNA that it is impossible to completely de-Spirit us.

That is what I hope, but Jesus DOES caution us not to be too small-minded to recognise and honour the Holy Spirit. If we mock Jesus, or if we mock those who have hope and idealism then we are doing a dangerous thing to our souls. Perhaps it’s not about getting our theology or our creed right in the end, it is about getting our relationship right.

Because if we manage to live according to the Holy Spirit- for a moment or a lifetime then we ARE Jesus’ family. That is what we are made for and always called back to as human beings, as earthlings. Let us pray that we know and do the will of God. Let us trust in God, our souls trusting in God’s Word. Let us love generously, recognising the family resemblance in all creation.

Good or bad shepherds

This picture is The Young Shepherdess by Julien Dupre

People talk about “sheeple” and all of that these days. I have heard ministers refer to people who come to their church as their “flock” in a fairly demeaning way. I try to be vegan. All in all I find the metaphor of Christ as a shepherd something I am ambivalent about.

Another thing I was ambivalent about this week was having to lead a service and preach. Usually I love this (as regular readers would know) but I am kind of tired and depressed and have low levels of faith and it was my weekend for going away with some friends to relax and I wanted someone else to take it off my hands and run with it. I wanted to be organised enough ahead to write the whole thing and put it in their hands and be free.

But I had car trouble and computer trouble and money trouble and a cat with cancer and it did not happen and I was left having to cut my holiday short and come back. And I had to move on and WRITE SOMETHING so I could go on the holiday in the first place instead of using Saturday to try to finish it.

And I had no idea what to do with these readings.

Well I DID end up going camping with a whole bunch of lesbians and their children in a wine region and God was there with us in so many ways (even though half the time she was quarreling with me) so no regrets. And I had not written a reflection as such but I had written some questions and I played some Latvian music that speaks to me of Godde (even though the song itself is pagan I guess). I can’t find that track on internet so I will link one called (my terrible translation) “with god you have long tables“. I played the song that celebrated the diving in ordinary things (weaving, eating, being) but of course it was not in a language anyone there speaks so I gave them a sheet of questions focussing on the readings.

Initially I had many more questions but I cut it down to one page of largish font and tried to make them sort of fit together in a theme. I was also reflective as I wrote a slightly grumpy collect.  People prayed about all the things in the world that hurt and upset us. It was a very sad prayer time which fit where I am in my faith life but it was my job to lead so at the end I said “we have shared or pain, fear and sadness but we bring to you also love and laughter, good friends and beautiful meals shared” I really, really hoped noone thought I was trying to silence or invalidate their horror and honesty but I wanted them to be in a safe space too!

This is all I have this week, sharing a difficult job leading…made easier OF COURSE by the wonderful, supportive, participative people who taught me everything about liturgy so of course did it all with me and appreciated my work. I had apologised for the way I always “talk. talk. talk” at them and set up my lack of real preaching as a blessed reprieve from me when I wasn’t giving into the temptation to be always talking.

One of the leaders who is a fantastic thinker and one of the best preachers there said to me at the end she hopes (and that everyone hopes) I WILL keep on giving into the temptation to preach. Which was a beautiful affirmation. It was honestly the kindest thing to say.

So having over-explained the piecemeal blog this week I will post the shortened sheet of questions :

“all of you … should know
that it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean
whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead;
in his name this man stands before you healed.

He is the stone rejected by you, the builders,
which has become the cornerstone.”

 

What might we have rejected, that in fact contains God’s grace and God’s word to us? How do we overcome our prejudices and our need to draw lines to find Jesus in the “stone rejected”?


“There is no salvation through anyone else,
nor is there any other name under heaven
given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”

 

Given this sort of statement, how do we work with other faiths in the world? If Jesus is the “only name” then what is his relationship to other faiths? How do we avoid having a colonising attitude to others?

 

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice,
and there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

How to work toward this with respect not chauvinism? How to achieve unity without erasing culture and diversity? Science and creation tell us that diversity is a good thing- let us reflect on the difference between “unity” as control and true unity based on trust and connection.

“what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is.”

Sit with the mystery and the potential and resist the temptation to formulate answers. We shall be more…

 Those were the shortened set of questions. If anyone is curious as to the other questions comment and I will post them as a reply.

I would also like to share my penetential rite and collect.

Penitential rite

God of all kindness, when at times we are heartsore, apathetic, rudderless, downcast, empty, defensive, lonely or hungry.

Teach us to take refuge only in you.

If when we look at our neighbour and we see difference, folly, laziness, lack of worth, overwhelming need or shallowness,

show us that what we reject has worth to your better way of seeing.

Risen one we can see ourselves as weak and irrelevant.

When at time we live as if what we do has little importance

teach us your power of knowing and caring.

God of all love, you have created, companioned

and continue to call us.

Teach us to know you in one another.

 

Opening Prayer

But we are more than sheep oh Risen One

(or perhaps it is that we have underestimated ourselves

along with sheep)

we know your voice because you called us-

out of the abyss of rejection and gave us purpose;

out of the dimness of unbeing and gave us breath.

we know your voice and we know your presence.

When we face down wolves

you stand with us and for us.

 

Anyway this was my attempt this week. It’s a community where I am and I am a participant not the leader or the star so all was well. I think anyone would do well in a community like that. I pray that for everyone, that they find God with/in people who teach, support, commission and then again support their ministry.

And I will try to write a “proper” reflection next week.

 

 

 

You’re risen but what am I?

The second reading finishes with the instruction: “let us celebrate the feast,
not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

Challenge accepted. How do I clear out and renew my life? What malice and wickedness lurks in corners of my (mostly) good intention? How can I be sincere and true to my calling, ready for the unknown hope after all the deaths and disappointments of life?

The suggested gospel of the day stops short without the abrupt ending to Mark’s gospel. I feel the abrupt ending speaks for me. I am caught up in a sort of Holy Saturday stupor- for me, for me the resurrection has not really sunk in, life is not really changed. You can see this, because it took until Wednesday to write last Sunday’s blog (for no good reason, I was just dry and empty). Good news needs time to be processed and finding safe people to debrief with is sometimes difficult.

Prayer life is a bit like any other relationship, if we merely chase what “feels good” we miss most of it. But I am left supposedly rejoicing and transformed and in fact feeling a profound sense of anti-climax. How do I change myself or gain some sort of understanding?

I feel a great deal of anger towards the church, and for a while I was expressing it in my blog, but I became to feel uncomfortable with the excess of my negative emotion, and especially the way it might contain traces of selfishness within it (or seem to). So I have tried to go further inward and transform myself. I have tried to focus on the positive and call myself to account rather than ranting at external forces. This was the next cycle and I feel that cycle too is exhausted.

By too much navel-gazing and piety I have become perfunctory about faith, I am not “feeling it” but then at odd moments I feel resentment or passive aggression toward the idea of even being at church (and my specific church community are so lovely and have done so much for me that this is completely irrational). I think rather than rising above my anger, like I thought I was going, I have merely repressed it (again). What is the answer? I don’t know. What is the next step?

Christ is risen.

“He” is risen indeed. Or so I am supposed to respond.

Is rising like getting up in the morning, because it seems significant that lately I have been uncharacteristically slow and reluctant to get out of my bed (or is that just the approach of winter?). I ache inside, some deep emotional hurt that isn’t so easily healed by a few Hallelujahs!

Did Jesus still hurt from the crucifixion? Physically? Mentally? Emotionally? Spiritually? Are we really supposed to see him post-resurrection as so renewed that pain is absent (and yet witness the wounds). What did he do with the pain? Isn’t death meant to be the only solution for that absoluteness? If he triumphed over death itself then at what cost? No cost?

Is this a “happily ever after” moment?

I live in the real world, what on earth am I supposed to do with that?

 

Jesus,

How do I hold a post-resurrection reality? How do I soothe a pain denied, a death reversed?

What am I when I am not dying?

How do I reach out to pain, numbness and confusion in others? How do I keep moving forward? I want some sort of meaning!

What do you want from me?

Is there something we can work on together?

I feel horrifyingly alone and insignificant within all this alienating “glory”. Connect me in somehow with resurrection.

Amen

I’m not a puppet

Read with suspicion, I am struggling this week.

The first reading is all about Jonah doing what God wants. It misses all the interesting things about what happens when Jonah misbehaves, and if we only had this part of the story we would see his relationship with God as very respectable and conflict free. Jonah’s message here is one of doom and destruction. God is displeased and the city will be destroyed. There are many parallels with today that we could misuse this text to fit (and people do). It’s bleak and authoritarian, it’s call is to follow God out of fear not joy.

I used to get seduced by the Jonah story, to the point where as a teenager I tried to change my name to Jonah. I guess I was attracted to the security of being Jonah. Jonah can make any mistake, go off in any wrong direction and God will bring him back like a straying toddler, making use of a huge fish or a plant to teach a lesson. Jonah may suffer some unpleasant experiences, but has an element of invulnerability within that. I didn’t at the time stop to unpack how toxic such a relationship with a codependant and controlling God in fact would be. I couldn’t follow what I saw as my vocation (to the priesthood) and so I trusted God that somehow I, or the people blocking me would be swallowed by a huge fish and it would all come out right in some nebulous future.

I did not then accept the implications of free will, that in fact we are called but not forced to follow God and we all hear the call differently and argue over what it means and there is conflict and struggle, loss and failure. The story of Jonah does not allow for these, suffering in the story is temporary and can be corrected by turning back to God.

The second reading is also a dangerous snippet of the sort of “doom and gloom” content that churches overuse and misuse. It can feel true for any generation and any time, and that is perhaps the first lesson to learn, that when the end seems nigh, people were feeling just the same centuries ago! However that way of thinking can also lead us to too blithely dismiss the possibility of real “end times” inherent in the fact of climate change. God is not going to mysteriously put us or our leaders back on the right path if we stubbornly persist in destroying ourselves. Death and suffering are real, and become more probable when we abuse nature or each other.

What I take from the second reading, is the need to stand back to some degree from social “truths” (like marriage, celebration, grief, property, use of nature). These everyday “realities” are human constructions and therefore able to be questioned. I find it interesting that use of wives (no mention of husbands), property and nature are all lumped together…there seems to me (perhaps only seen through a 2018 lens) an admission there that what needs liberation from us and our social structures (or “truths”) is women and the earth as well as the distribution of resources. Also that there is something unpredictable in what we feel, we may not always experience the emotion we are “supposed to”.

In this context I find the gospel interesting. John has been killed. Is Jesus sad and lonely? Is his calling of the fishermen as much about needing friendship and connection as anything else? How was it for Zebedee to be left this way? This story seems to follow on from the second reading, in that they are leaving their structured lives of labour and family hierarchies (but also possibly affection) and seeing a better or more imperative future possibility. If Zebedee and fishing represent “the way we have always done things”, it is pretty daring of them to follow Jesus instead, but faced with climate change we as a society need to have that daring, to turn our backs on capitalist “tried and true” ways of being and seek liberation.

I say that so blithely but it is not an easy thing to see each step or to follow it. We may not all agree on exactly how to proceed to have the best security for the most human beings, but the fact that so many are already suffering (and threaten to become a flood of the dispossessed and hungry…I refer both to refugees and the increasing numbers of poorer and poorer people within our own relatively wealthy society) is a clear sign that we need to seek liberation for humanity. Liberation is not just this modern, atomistic idea of “empowerment”, where you think positive and like Boxer from Animal Farm work harder. Liberation is for me and “thou” for each person who is in any way entangled in my life (and the whole globe’s population is increasingly tangled together by lines of relationship or exploitation).

Perhaps I am feeling bleak because I have to work on my political campaign at what is usually my favourite time of the year, and I am missing out on sunsets at the beach. Perhaps it is just hard to feel positive because all of us are so overworked and people seem to think heaping hatred and blame on those who stand up for the environment and human rights is somehow justified. But the readings seem every bit as crosspatch as I am feeling. So I will still squeeze out a grumpy little prayer…

Loving God,

You know by now that I am not Jonah, that I don’t do what I am told.

That I may need mentoring and advice but can’t stand being used

as a puppet for someone else.

Not even you, bold and impassioned Word.

 

You have seen by now

that those social structures-

patriarchal marriage, capitalism, consumerism,

neoliberal cancerous growth

leave me cold,

that I don’t know how to smile when I am told

or weep when I am prompted.

 

It is good news indeed to me

if oppressive structures could pass away.

 

So I guess I could leave things,

most things not all

because I sure as Heaven am never going to leave my children

even for you

and you taught me that I can’t leave my self.

 

I guess I’ll come with you, who have lost a loved one

to recognise each other’s broken heart,

to hold each other’s hand on the long road,

to somewhere uncompromising and brave.

 

But I am not really brave yet.

Amen.

Embodying “temple”

The readings this week are about being called. Samuel greatly admires his teacher, but outgrows his teacher and finds his own vocation. Eli here is wise enough to know his own limitation and to point Samuel to a direct communion with God, putting himself out of the loop when it is time. So it is with all mentors or teachers and students, the time comes when the learner needs to stand on their own feet and decide for themselves. But there is an inner voice of integrity, a call to be greater than just self-interest and ego. Another way of saying this is that our potential is grounded in the will and wor[l]d of God.

The second reading contains that old saying that many of us grew up with, that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. This teaching was often misused to make girls in particular feel fearful of their own sexuality and guilty of any sort of sensuousness. That interpretation however is not really borne out by the text itself. A temple is not a delicate and fragile thing, so prone to desecration- it is something that has integrity. If my body is a temple to the one true and beautiful God, then my body has integrity. If my body, in its bodiliness was sanctified then my body’s abilities and desires also can point to Christ/Wisdom. This is not to say that selfishness and overfocusing on the body itself, or giving into every impulse is desirable. People can work into a beautiful church and feel no sense of the sacred. They can admire the fine architecture and art. They can enjoy the singing of the perfect choir or find serenity in the colourful, scented flowers and incense and warm amber light through stained glass and yet never think that there is more here than pleasure and momentary peace.

In the same way we can live in our bodies in a way that focusses us on narcissism, lust, gluttony and all the rest of it and never touch Godde in ourselves or others.

But how unhappy to try to correct this possibility by smashing stained glass, banning choirs, throwing out art or defacing architecture, banishing incense and flowers and denuding the altar an sanctuary of anything that is beautiful or that adds pleasure to the experience of the sacred. Granted we strip the church (partially) for Good Friday, but this is an expression of our loss and grief and solidarity with Godde’s loss and grief in this time- it is not the ordinary way we approach Godde through a rejection of all the good things of the earth.

Why does communion flatbread have to taste of cardboard? I like that Anglican churches tend to have a good quality port as communion wine. God is in pleasure of the senses as much as in the strength of being able to face deprivation.

My body in its beauty and capability is a place where I or others can encounter Godde. I was deeply aware of this, this week as I returned to work at the childcare centre and had children clamouring for a cuddle and a story and I told them that my arms were long enough to cuddle more than one friend at a time (this was necessary). Then they measured their arms too by how many friends they could reach and we laughed together at the joy of being human with long arms that long to embrace. We told stories, the older children who are on the threshold of leaving for school have listened to my stories and asked me to stop and listen to theirs for a change. In church we do story-telling, and it is called the liturgy of the Word. In church we touch with affection and claim ourselves as part of the “otherness” of God no less than the other (each other in the sign of peace and penitential rite and Godde herself in the Eucharist). I am sure other professions too can find parallels with worship (nursing comes to mind, but even politics has something).

In the gospel Jesus is being cosy and friendly and giving nicknames. To be friends with Jesus is to go out of our way and to get to know him, this includes going to visit him in the elsewhere mentioned “least of my siblings”. To be part of Jesus’ group is to be changed, to gain a new and more difficult identity to learn to be a “rock”- strong and dependable in the tides of life. I think I have mentioned before how much I relate to the flawedness and well-meaning bumblings of Peter- his impulsivity and excess of emotion. Jesus in the readings calls Samuel and Peter but he calls each of us- the female body is a temple no less than the male and the Holy Spirit dwells in the specificity and even the limits of beautiful human architecture.

I am a temple

I am a rock

I am a reassuring touchstone for those

who need to come to God’s presence.

 

I can embody liturgy

I can embody prayer and praise

I can bring a moment of sanctity

of challenge and reassurance to the days

of God’s beloved

 

You are temple,

You are rock

You are there to show me something

bigger than myself

 

You embody Godde

You channel Wisdom

You are a lovely work of art

depicting her beauty

 

They are temple

They are rock

They are something firm and sacred

that we much treasure and preserve

 

They embody our call

They embody our sacrament

They call us to the altar

of the one we yearn for

 

…they are part of “we”…

 

We are temple

We are rock

We are stones together building

something bigger than just “I”

 

When you’re Samuel

I am Eli

getting ready to allow you

to hear more than I can tell you

to be yourself and speak with God.

Lovers, sisters, friends and God’s presence

My intention was to write a reflection for the 4th Sunday of advent but the problem with websites, is they have their own rhythms and when I switched on, the US bishops’ website showed (as always) the readings for today. I did mean to flick across to Sunday, I did! But today’s readings are some of my favourites, it is like turning your back on rich dark chocolate to flick past them. So sorry, but it is going to be readings for the final Thursday in this advent instead (I am sure there will be many other people giving great reflections for this Sunday, or you can consult a decent commentary and make your own with prayer).

In the first reading, the call from God is shown us as a call from an infatuated and very attractive lover. The earth is in perfect harmony with this lover- flowers are springing up, the harshness of winter is finished and this is the beginning of a “happily ever after”. OK so I sneer at romance novels and keep a cynical smirk on my face when anyone says “happily ever after”…usually. But looking past the metaphor this is God we are talking about. God comes to us in desire and joy and beauty, seeing the good in us, “my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one” and calling us into the flower-scented springtime of life.

I am unsure if it is still God calling, or the soul calling back in the last stanza (who is yearning to see and hear their “dove”?) but any separation needs to be ended.

This is what it truly means to “repent”.

We all know that any lover or close friend will take us out of our comfort zone, upset our careful routines and defence mechanisms and call forth from us some sort of change, not because they are finding fault with us but because in relationship it is always needful to accommodate to each other.

We often get the dreary guilt trip to “repent from sin” to “repent from how awful you are” and all of that, like children being constantly told to “wash your hands” and “don’t whine” and “act like a big boy” (although I try to avoid the “big boy” comment these days). Repent because you are dirty, repent because your desires are unanswerable or even wrong, repent because you are (spiritually) immature.

But the lover in the first reading (hint: it’s always God with the bible) says “Repent away from loneliness. Repent away from boredom. Repent away from not knowing you are beautiful. Repent with me into the abundant harvest. Hear me (or let me hear you). See me (or let me see you). Arise my love, my beautiful one and come.”

This seems like an excuse to turn to my favourite Christmas carol (as I already did in last Sunday’s liturgy) and I will use it as a bridge into a gospel that actually passes the Bechdel test (I know I said that last year…but it’s part of the reason I love this story so much).

Let me retell the story in my own (rather biased) words.

Mary understood how important “girl talk” can be for making meaning and offering support together, woman to woman. Although she was pregnant she journeyed a really long way to get to Elizabeth and offer her compassion and share her joy…also to exchange the exciting and slightly scaring news (I think it bears mentioning that the gossipy angel had mentioned to her that Elizabeth had news to share in the first place).

This story so far is full of the sort of femininities that often get mocked- the need for gossip and talk and emotional support and there is a heroic quality to Mary’s determination to offer and receive support in this way. Scripture is not working for the patriarchy here.

Mary “travelled in haste” and got to Elizabeth (in Zechariah’s house, scripture won’t/can’t move out of defining Elizabeth by her husband and his ownership of her home). As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, as soon as the inspirational female preacher spoke, the exceptional prophet (ie John the Baptist) in her womb leapt for joy.

Of course we have always been told (and I don’t entirely disagree) that the reason he leapt for joy was the proximity of Christ (in Mary’s womb). Yes, but what signalled Christ’s nearness? Mary’s voice!

Mary spoke and John heard the first stirrings of his vocation and knew joy. Elizabeth recognises this reaction from her infant/prophet and theologises about it. A gossip session has turned into an important meeting of theologies. But there is still the traditional element of women’s talk- giving compliments “Blessed are you…” (please note I, myself, am really bad at giving compliments and am still learning how to do it, but working in an all female workplace for a number of years has shown me what an important part of interactions it can be).

There the text stops which is disappointing because it means I have to pull my bible off the shelf (or open a new tab) to get the text of Mary’s proclamation and preaching. Mary places her joy and work firmly in the kindom of God with radical restitutive justice sweeping through every human dealing “he fills the hungry with good things, sends the rich away empty” and grounding herself in ongoing salvation history (echoes of Israel, Abraham and all the rest of them). I’ll say it again- with a mother like that can we be surprised Jesus was a great preacher and perceived as a dangerous revolutionary?

A couple of years ago I needed (for personal reasons) to explore a possible lesbian reading of Mary and Elizabeth but this year I am sitting with this as a meeting of minds, an intellectual and spiritual encounter set within the “women’s work” of nurturing and “gossip”. The common theme with this first reading is affectionate, joyful human relationships as places of encounter with the divine. Human love as the vehicle of vocation. Like the lover in the first reading- Mary (and Jesus) travel at haste toward someone they want to be joyfully with – Elizabeth (and John). As in the first reading the one who comes calls and the response in the one visited is joy and transformation.

John recognised in the voice of Mary the presence of Jesus. John was perhaps smarter than some official church leaders who think it is impossible for a woman to preach or minister (I do mean minister as I am sure Mary washed and fed and tended to her heavily pregnant older cousin and family, not just talked). Jesus came into the world surrounded by the buzz of “girl talk”, the sharing of news, the giving of compliments, the radical politics and theology…everything we know we do when we get together with other women. He also had the nurture of Joseph who trusted Mary to go on this long journey, who was the supporter not the “boss” of his family, although he does not appear in this story.

As the last few days of advent roll by let us listen for the voice of love that will make Christmas meaningful. We tend to eat too much and exchange gifts no one really needs and sometimes we feel guilty or judgemental about that. But it is our way of trying to connect in love. Instead of a more ascetic approach to Christmas, perhaps we can discover a more inclusive or transformative approach where gift and food are shared to those who need it “he fills the starving with good things and doesn’t burden the earth by giving his rich relatives stuff they don’t even really want”.

But I hope all my readers will have a really joyful Christmas with the people they love, and find somewhere within the celebrations the voce of the lover “Arise my beloved, my beautiful one and come”